Since last year’s deal over nuclear technology, the US and Europe have started the process of lifting sanctions imposed against Iran, potentially opening up the Islamic republic’s market, for both importers and exporters. But while exporters have welcomed the newly open business environment, some say the reality is still difficult.
Public relations makeover
According to Mehrdad Hoda, export director at Pars Emerald Pistachio, the removal of sanctions has allowed Iran to change its image and improve its public relations. And while this has created opportunities, these have not yet turned into concrete business.
“This has opened a lot of doors for doing business. But these doors are just open – no-one’s coming in yet,” said Hoda.
“We’re hoping that eventually somebody would come through that door, now that it’s open. But it’s bad timing, with the doors being opened while there’s stagnation and recession in major economies around the world, including China, Europe, even the US,” he added.
Hoda said the Iranian government is putting a greater focus on private enterprises: “At the same time, the government thankfully is really trying its best to create a better environment for businesses, for the private sector to operate, now the price of oil has gone down. They decided to reduce dependency on oil, so they’ve focused their attention on the private sector. This is a good thing, and we welcome that.”
Quality, not quantity
For Pars Emerald Pistachio, the focus now is on producing quality products and improving the image of Iran’s pistachio industry. Hoda said the firm specialises in sales of pistachio kernels, rather than in-shell nuts, as it believes it can deliver the high quality that customers such as confectioners require.
“It involves procuring the right raw material – what size the kernel is, what size the shell. It involves mastering the breaking of shells and retrieving the kernels, a cleaning process, and the packaging. There’s so many layers to the process – and this is something that not everyone can do. Everybody can buy in-shell pistachios, put them in sacks and export them – it’s not that hard,” said Hoda.
“The aim is not to sell as many containers as we can. We have a term in Farsi: this is not a convenience store. The main aim is to portray a professional image of our company, and also of the Iranian pistachio industry. The image has been tarnished over the years, through bad business practices. We have to compete with the Americans, and the Americans are really professional,” he added.
According to Hoda, Pars Emerald is looking at developing markets near to hand: “We try to focus on Lebanon and India, and also the Gulf region. Lebanon is one of the main consumer of pistachio kernels, because they’re a major producer of confections and sweets that involve pistachios. Also India has a long history of using pistachios – their culture is familiar with pistachios, and they also have sweets they use the kernels in. It’s a huge market.”
While Pars Emerald Pistachio is focused on the Middle East and Asia, Hoda said a sister company handles sales to markets in Europe, as well as Japan and Australia, due to their strict requirements on aflatoxin, and the complex trading requirements these bring.